Dark Waters (M, 126mins) Directed by Todd Haynes ★★★★★
Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) was Taft, Stettinius & Hollister’s great white hope.
For eight years, the Cincinnati corporate defence lawyer had skilfully helped the law firm’s key petroleum company clients mitigate and avoid any potentially sticky situations. His reward? Partnership.
So when a farmer from his home state of West Virginia turns up with a box of video tapes claiming that chemical company DuPont has been “poisoning” the flora, fauna and fair folk of Parkersburg, his initial reaction is to deflect his advances. However, when Bilott’s grandmother beseeches him to come and check out the farmer’s claims, his polite upbringing kicks in. What he witnesses is shocking – cows with bloated organs and tumours, bleached river stones and children with blackened teeth.
With the reluctant permission of his bosses, Bilott files to his get his hands on the report by Environmental Protection Agency who visited the area. But when it draws a blank and the farmer is accused of simply being deficient in herd management, Bilott’s ire is raised. Demanding DuPont hand over all their information about what they’ve been “dumping” in the nearby Dry Run landfill, he is overwhelmed by the amount of information they send him. However, although the sheer volume is clearly designed to deter him, Bilott is determined to find something that will stick. Problem is – this is the deep-pocketed, heavily lawyered company that created Teflon.
Dark Waters opens in NZ cinemas on March 5.
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Based on the brilliantly titled 2016 New York Times Magazine article The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare, Todd Haynes (Carol, Far From Heaven) has delivered a stunning and rage-inducing real-life environmental courtroom drama. This Erin Brockovich-meets-John-Grisham-esque drama will make you look at your Teflon cookware in a whole new, chilling, light.
As with his earlier films, Haynes does a fabulous job of evoking a sense of space and place, with the costuming, production design and makeup departments all working in harmony admirably throughout the course of the movie’s 20-year span.
Mark Ruffalo stars in Dark Waters.
Playing it with same understated compellingness he brought to 2015 Oscar winner Spotlight (there’s just something about watching him doggedly rifle through papers to expose ne’er-do-wells), Mark Ruffalo is outstanding as a man willing to risk his career and own life to expose the truth about perfluorooctanoic acids and the ongoing effects they can have on livestock and human health.
Naturally, he also gets to deliver a stirring speech or two, carefully orchestrated by screenwriters Mario Correa (previous best known as a documentarian) and Matthew Michael Carnahan (Deepwater Horizon, World War Z). “The system is rigged. They want us to believe that it’ll protect us, but that’s a lie. We protect us. We do. Nobody else. Not the companies, not the scientists, not the government. Us.” Ruffalo, who is also a producer on the project, is ably supported by a solid cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman and Mare Winningham.
A true-life tale filled with twists, turns and thought-provoking and troubling messages, Dark Waters is compelling viewing and a reminder of the irony of DuPont’s famous slogan “better living through chemistry”.